Kiggins Theatre

FILM REVIEW: “The Ones Below” is pregnant with menace

This chilling indie thriller about expectant neighbors conjures Polanski-style dread

For all its miraculous beauty, there’s also something eerie and alien about pregnancy, even when you know how the baby got there and how it’s going to get out. Films have exploited the fears of expectant parents for as long as movies have been allowed to say the word “pregnant” (so, like, the ’50s), so there isn’t much new ground to be explored. But “The Ones Below,” a taut thriller from first-time British filmmaker David Farr, covers some of the familiar fears with a cold, unsettling efficiency.

This is a roundabout way of saying that there should a Surgeon General’s warning on this film: Do not watch this movie if you are pregnant or expecting to become pregnant, ever.

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Film Review: Multistory mayhem in “High-Rise”

Tom Hiddleston stars in this long-awaited adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel about an apartment building that's a microcosm of class divisions

“My building has every convenience. It’s gonna make life easy for me.” –Talking Heads, “Don’t Worry About the Government”

“Movin’ on up, to the top, to a deluxe apartment in the sky.” –Ja’net Dubois, “Movin’ on Up (Theme from ‘The Jeffersons’)”

 

The above examples demonstrate that J.G. Ballard’s novel “High-Rise” wasn’t the only 1970s pop-cultural critique of urban living—just one of the most dystopian. In that decade, the utopian dream of planned housing developments soured into resentment and alienation, and Ballard was, as usual, at the forefront in recognizing the ways modernity and technology could really mess with people.

“High-Rise” has now, after a thirty-year effort by producer Jeremy Thomas, been made into a film, one that captures Ballard’s anxieties but fails to update them, and therefore ends up feeling almost too faithful to the book. The setting remains, vaguely, the 1970s, and Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has just moved into the 25th floor of a 50-floor residential monolith. Laing is, as the few scenes set outside the building show, a medical instructor specializing in the brain, and one can’t help but wonder if his name is a reference to the radical 1960s psychiatrist R.D. Laing.

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Review: ‘Kill Your Friends’ Is Served Cold, But Not Exactly Fresh

We recommend it only if you've never seen any of the better movies it wants to be

Current movie trends and audience tastes seem to prefer, overall, a bright, shiny, redemptive and hopeful product, the rampaging box-office success of “Batman v Superman” notwithstanding. But those of us who are also attracted to stories at cinemas involving less noble examples of humanity have nonetheless been well-served over the years. So much so that “Kill Your Friends,” a confidently-made new British feature starring Nicholas Hoult (“X-Men: Days Of Future Past”) as a serial killing A & R record man, may provoke déjà vu in even the slightly adventurous moviegoer. 

The characters here mistake their insane levels of drug-taking and entitled positions in life for something of value, but unfortunately so do the filmmakers, who perhaps thought that by upping the nihilism and over-the-top nastiness in this adaptation of the 2008 novel by Scottish author John Niven they could gloss over their movie’s most glaring flaw: it has absolutely nothing new to say.

Kill friends

I can’t be sure that it’s any different from the source material, as I’ve not read it. the film follows Hoult’s journey through the British music industry, circa 1997, as that particular corner of the business was flush with pop success. His transition from vicious corporate ladder-climber to the titular killer of friends feels cynically amoral–the movie plays like a series of uninspired ‘why-nots.’ Hoult, the boy from “About A Boy,” quotes Conan the Barbarian as he murders and betrays anyone between him and the top job at his company.

Hoult has been on something of a mission in his mid-20s to seek out more adult roles. He clearly wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and for the most part, I’ve been pleased to see where his instincts have taken him thus far (His turn in last year’s Oscar-winning ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ was great but he was even better in the criminally underseen 2014 indie sci-fi “Young Ones.”). Here, as anti-hero Steven Stelfox, he leaves no line of coke un-snorted, no woman un-demeaned, no co-worker un-destroyed and no fourth wall unbroken. If he existed in the same cinematic universe as Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho,” they could easily create some kind of uber-douche Justice League of serial killer misanthropes who rule corporate hell (and by extension, all of us).

That’s all well and good. Hoult seems to relish the opportunity to go bad, and his performance makes “Kill Your Friends” watchable as hell, but that can’t save this film from being anything other than a B-squad “Wolf Of Wall Street.” Even HBO’s flawed but getting better new show, “Vinyl,” has more to offer. And neither the outstanding 90’s Britpop soundtrack nor the score by veteran producer Junkie XL (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Deadpool”) save it from being a lesser, rote version of the Mary Harron movie adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ infamous bestseller (they got there first after all). Director Owen Harris makes his feature debut following several great episodes of the British TV series “Misfits” and one of my favorite “Black Mirror” episodes, “Be Right Back.” He does right by the material, even if it all seems hollow and uninspired while the running time, admittedly, whizzes by. I’m not faulting the film for being bad as it wants to be. It’s more that, once you’ve seen it done better so many times before (all hail Martin Scorsese!), there’s not much left to do but shrug with indifference. 

(“Kill Your Friends” opens Friday, April 1, at Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver, WA.)

Rated R (for bloody violence, nudity, lots of drug use and plenty of foul language), 103 min. Grade: C

#PDXFilmDaily for March 18: “Men in War,” “The Omega Man,” and more

The Northwest Film Center presents a series of restored classics, while the Hollywood serves up a thick hunk of Chuck Heston

The Northwest Film Center kicks off a series of ‘Treasures from the UCLA Film & Television Archives’ with an underseen effort from one of Hollywood’s most overlooked filmmakers. Anthony Mann made Westerns, films noir, and historical epics, and regardless of the genre, he brought an integrity and verisimilitude to everything he touched. That’s supremely evident in his 1957 Korean War movie, which bears the suitably universal title “Men in War.” It’s a simple, even primeval, tale, with Robert Ryan as the leader of a platoon of American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. Aldo Ray, Vic Morrow, and L.Q. Jones co-star, but the most haunting performance in this nearly nihilistic flick comes from Robert Keith (Brian’s father), who plays a shell-shocked colonel the platoon encounters. The novel “Men in War” is based on was set in World War II Normandy, but tells such a basic tale of conflict that it’s easily transferable to Korea. It’s amazing what a talented filmmaker can accomplish with a small cast, a bunch of military surplus, and the arid California hills to work with.

The UCLA series continues through Sunday, March 27, featuring an array of American cinema both beloved and neglected. Check future editions of #PDXFilmDaily for details.

Robert Ryan in Anthony Mann's 1957 film "Men in War."

Robert Ryan in Anthony Mann’s 1957 film “Men in War.”

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element” starts a weeklong run at Laurelhurst Theater, and Wes Anderson’s delightful “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” does the same at the The Academy Theater. Both are visually spectacular in their own way, even if Besson’s space opera is both more childish and less child-friendly than Anderson’s endearing Roald Dahl adaptation. Melissa Rauch, star of “The Bronze,” isn’t the only “The Big Bang Theory” cast member with a movie opening this week. Kaley Cuoco heads up the cast of “Burning Bodhi,” an ensemble indie piece playing at the Kiggins Theatre that’s billed as “The Big Chill” for a new generation: a group of twentysomethings reunite for a friend’s funeral. Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen co-stars.

 

Last but certainly not least, the one and only Charlton Heston plays the one and only man left on Earth in the dystopian 1971 sci-fi cult classic “The Omega Man.” It screens on 35mm at the Hollywood Theatre for one night only on Friday.